NEW YORK--Public discussion has played a large part in the recent declines in breast cancer mortality, say the sponsors of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), and they urge the media to keep breast cancer on the public agenda.
At a press conference, the sponsors issued a statement that "despite 10 years of progress in early detection, treatment, and survival of breast cancer, the difficulty in reaching elderly and underserved women with important breast health messages remains a critical concern."
From 1989 to 1993, the most recent 5-year period for which data are available, the age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rate fell approximately 6% in white women overall and rose about 1% overall in black women. Dr. Smith noted that for some age groups of black women, a decline in the death rate was observed for this period. Furthermore, although the overall mortality rate is still rising in black women, the rate of increase has declined dramatically since 1980.
Several speakers at the briefing said that the trend was the sign they had been waiting for that screenings, research, new treatments, patient advocacy, self-help groups, and media coverage over the past decade had begun to pay off.
Larry Norton, MD, chief of the breast cancer medical service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said that when he heard the news about the changes in the mortality rate, he felt like his baseball team had won the pennant.
"It is important to get the message out that most people who have early stage breast cancer are cured by modern treatment methods and that there has been an explosion of knowledge about breast cancer, more than we ever dreamed of," Dr. Norton said.
Increased participation in mammog-raphy screenings has played a significant role in the modest mortality drop, said Robert Smith, PhD, senior director of detection and treatment for the American Cancer Society. "The rise in the numbers of women getting mammograms underscores the profound positive impact that breast cancer awareness programs have had on the disease," he said.